Anime Film Review: Pom Poko

Pom Poko is a film produced by Studio Ghibli and directed by Isao Takahata, and it was released to Japanese theaters on July 16, 1994. Pom Poko was released by Disney as part of the deal the company made with Studio Ghibli; the film was released in the United States on DVD in 2005.

Pom Poko
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Starring: Kokontei Shinchou, Makoto Nonomura, and Yuriko Ishida
Run Time: 119 minutes
Rated: PG

Pom Poko is a film that relies very heavily on Japanese folklore. It starts in Japan in the 1960s, and a group of Tanuki (who are referred to as raccoons in the English dub and subtitles) are threatened by a suburban development project called Tama New Town. The development is located in the Tama Hills, on the outskirts of Tokyo; the development cuts into the forest habitat. Then, the story moves ahead in time to Japan in the early 1990s; the construction on Tama New Town is still going on, and is causing a decrease in living space and food for the Tanuki. The Tanuki begin to fight amongst themselves for what is left; however, Oroku, the matriarch, convinces the others that they must unite against the humans and to try and stop the development. Prominent members of the Tanuki lead the resistance: Oroku, Gonta, Tsurugame, and Shoukichi.

As part of their resistance, the Tanuki must re-learn their illusion skills in order to blend in with the humans, and they also conduct acts of industrial sabotage. These attacks injure and even kill some of the construction workers; while some of the workers are scared off, more come onto the job site to replace them.

The Tanuki then send messengers to find some legendary elders who live in faraway regions to ask for their help. While the messengers are away, the Tanuki continue to fight for their home. After a few years, one of the messengers returns, and brings with him a trio of Tanuki elders from the island of Shikoku. Can these elders help the Tanuki to convince the humans to stop the development effort?

Pom Poko has an interesting premise, but it is one of the longer films in the Studio Ghibli catalog. The pacing of the film is also a little slower than the other Studio Ghibli films, which is something that younger children wouldn’t appreciate about this film. Probably one of the most notable and memorable things of Pom Poko is seeing the Male Tanuki using their testicles as a weapon. After seeing this film, I’m actually a little surprised that Disney agreed to release it. It’s not that it’s a bad film, but it’s not as “child friendly” as films like Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, or even Howl’s Moving Castle.

The animation in Pom Poko employs at least two or three different styles, especially when it comes to the Tanuki. Not that this is bad, but it can be a bit disorienting at times.  I believe these Takahata intended for these animation styles to make a statement, but I don’t think it entirely comes across as clearly as it could.

When Disney released Pom Poko, it was released as a two disc set. There is only one special feature included on the first disc: the trailers and TV spots for Pom Poko, which runs for about eight minutes. There are four promotional spots in all, which have the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

The second disc only has the storyboard version of the film included on it. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I just don’t understand the appeal of watching an entire movie in a storyboard version.

Overall, I think that Pom Poko is a decent film by Isao Takahata. If you’re a fan of Takahata or want to own everything Studio Ghibli has released, then you need to add this film to your anime home video library.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Pom Poko that my husband and I purchased.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films:

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